Interview with Ueli Berger of King Island Dairy
He’s the son of a dairy farmer and the grandson of a cheesemaker, and hails from the Emmental region of Switzerland, so it’s fair to say that cheesemaking is in his blood. Meet Ueli Berger, Head Cheesemaker at King Island Dairy and winner of two Champion trophies and Grand Champion Cheese at the 2017 Australian Grand Dairy Awards.
What do you think sets King Island Dairy cheeses apart from others made on a relatively large scale?
Definitely the fact they are all hand made – for example, all of the cutting and stirring is done by hand. We don’t standardise the protein, but we do add fat when needed, so there is still some seasonal variation in the milk. We mostly make the cheddars in Spring, and late lactation milk makes better blue, for example.
But the big thing is the location – the terroir – with King Island in the middle of the Roaring 40s, which sprays minerals and salts over the land. The cows love it and it gives special milk. I can make exactly the same recipe in the factory in Burnie [on the Tasmanian mainland] but the cheese turns out differently.
When you finished your Swiss cheesemaking apprenticeship in 1975, you landed a job in the Lactos factory in Burnie [now owned by Lion]. What differences did you notice then between cheesemaking in Switzerland and Australia?
Cheesemaking in Switzerland was all on a small scale – every village had its own cheese factory – so when I came to Burnie, I had never seen a factory of that size. It was mainly producing bulk cheddar – back then, even gouda was considered a specialty cheese! We knew it had to go forward here. It was exciting when we started making soft and blue cheeses in the 1980s. When King Island Dairy approached me to be their head cheesemaker in 1998, I really got to do my own thing. They said, “just start making new stuff,” so I did.
The Black Label Double Brie just won the Australian Grand Dairy Awards Inaugural Peoples’ Choice Award – why do you think it is so popular among consumers?
Because it has more to offer. A lot of brie and camembert is quite mild and mellow, but some people like a little bit more. It has the right balance between being very creamy but with an earthy, extra flavour. It’s great that peoples’ tastes have become more adventurous, and there is more we can do to go further with this style of cheese.
What’s your favourite cheese in the King Island range and how do you like to enjoy it?
My favourites are the Black Label Double Brie and Roaring 40s Blue, both of which won Champion at the 2017 Australian Grand Dairy Awards. I like to eat cheese with friends and a good laugh! That’s the best thing about making cheese – being able to enjoy it with people.
King Island Dairy cheeses are distributed throughout Australia.